In a dramatic and historic turn of events the Tennessee House has passed the Education Savings Account plan advocated by Governor Bill Lee by a 50-48 margin. Earlier today the Senate Finance Committee passed the bill towards the Senate floor by a 6-5 margin.
The initial vote in the House was a 49-49 tie, with Representative Debra Moody being absent due to the death of her mother. For nearly an hour, House Speaker Glen Casada and legislative leaders sought to flip the vote of at least one legislator to get to a majority. Finally, after negotiating to have Knox County removed from the voucher plan, Rep. Jason Zachary flipped his vote from no to yes to secure passage of the bill.
House Speaker Glen Casada acknowledged that Governor Bill Lee made phone calls to several legislators while the vote remained open. Several, including members of House Leadership such as Ron Gant (Assistant House Majority Leader) Cameron Sexton (House Caucus Chair) and Mark Cochran (Treasurer) refused to support the legislation.
In the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Todd Gardenhire secured the removal of Hamilton County from the bill in order to gain his approval and move the bill forward.
Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn, the House sponsor of the bill, noted after the session ended that the states that win are those that get transportation and education right. “Tennessee’s well known for getting transportation right and now we will be right there with education.”
Shaka Mitchell, Executive Director at the Tennessee Federation for Children, applauded the House action. “Today’s vote marks a historic day for Tennessee’s students and parents. Members of the Tennessee House took a courageous stand for the right of parents to choose the educational setting that works best for their children. We commend Governor Bill Lee, Speaker Glen Casada, Majority Leader William Lamberth, Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn, Chairman Mark White, and many others for their leadership and efforts on behalf of Tennessee’s students and their families.”
J.C. Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, which has opposed the bill, also issued a statement immediately following the House action:
We believe in public education, and we believe most public schools in Tennessee are doing well and that all of them can do even better. We opposed this legislation because it doesn’t help all Tennessee schools do better.
We do not fear competition nor should we. There are pockets in our state that are not as successful as they can be in providing the quality of education we all expect. I challenge the Tennessee General Assembly in future legislative efforts to focus on breaking down the bureaucratic barriers that keep educators and school districts from pursuing effective solutions to the unique challenges of their communities. As a candidate, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee promised to “pilot innovative approaches that encourage our schools and their communities to work together and design solutions without bureaucratic hurdles.” We fully embrace that strategy, and hope that he will soon move from his voucher focus and get back to that mission.
This is a developing story